Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Answer Man, Series 2, Vol. 6

The Buc fan’s inside source takes another futile stab at clearing out his mailbag, discussing such topics as football specifications, clock stoppages and playoff seedings

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Scroll down a bit in this column and you'll find a reference to an NFL Films video clip featuring Marty Schottenheimer. Then the Kansas City Chiefs' head coach, Schottenheimer attempts to get a referee's attention during a game, to humorous effect.

Now, while it's true that the Answer Man has an oversized brain with a memory capacity dwarfing that of an ordinary man (the bulbous chin is for balance, see…yeah, that's it), I am not going to pretend that I remembered the minute details of that clip. To remind myself of the specifics of Schottenheimer's efforts, I headed back to the Buccaneers' Video Department to check out an old NFL Films tape.

With the help of the guys in that department, I found the brief scene I was looking for. Then, truth be told, I popped out the tape and got out of there, because those guys are busy.

Did you know that the Buccaneers' Video Department makes approximately 300 individual-player highlight films in the months before each draft? The preparation for the draft at any NFL team's headquarters is intense, and one prominent piece of it is the incessant watching of highlight tapes by scouts and coaches.

Generally, a scout will be assigned a player and will go through a variety of game tapes to come across the player's most representative snaps. He will then log the time codes for those plays on the game tapes and take that log sheet back to the video department. The video professionals will then splice those various plays into one tape.

In the weeks leading up to the big weekend, and even while the draft is in motion, these tapes can come in very handy. Obviously, opinions about players are formed over time using a wide variety of information, most importantly in-game performance and one-on-one meetings at the Combine. However, when it comes down to a tough decision between two or three players, it can help to have highlight tapes at the ready for a quick reminder of what each player can do.

Anyway, the Answer Man was reminded of this time-consuming but ultimately necessary process when he stopped by the Video Department, so I didn't linger too long with my trivial request. Besides, I had a good amount of work of my own to get to – your never-ending stream of questions. Let's get to it.

**

1-6. Michael Smith of Tallahassee, Florida asks:

Answer Man: Whoa. Hold on just a minute. Mr. Smith (he swears that is his real name in the e-mail) has not one question but six. Feeling generous, I'm going to address all of them, but let's break them up, alternating his questions and my answers. Beginning with:

**Dear Answer Dude, In a column, upon answering one question, you slipped in a note that there are special balls for kickers, and you knew (undoubtedly with your "Answer-sense") that you would be getting the following questions. I'm too busy (or lazy) to research these, so I figured I would give you the opportunity to rid the glorious city of Tampa, my hometown, of these "vermin" (just like you were secretly trained by the government to do):

1) It wasn't exactly clear what you meant by "the league introduced a specific ball for kickers." Does that mean that this ball you speak of is specially made for kickers? Or is it just that this(these) ball(s), though normal just like its(their) brothers and sisters, is(are) separated and constantly accounted for, henceforth only being used for "pedal love"?**

Answer Man: I can't tell if Mike is slipping in and out of lucidity here, or not. I mean, he's spot on about my "Answer-sense," and he's right about one question leading to the other, but I get lost when he starts talking about "vermin." Are those questions, as in what I'm trained to exterminate? And I have no idea what "pedal love" means. I at least hope it's rated PG, since I chose not to edit it out and I have very family-oriented bosses.

And you know, if I'm told one more time that my writing is "unclear," I'm going to respond in a manner that I hope can manage to prove otherwise in a way that will be unassailable by others who might wish to comment further on my lack of clarity in future e-mails or other manner of missives. Is that clear?

Michael's question is clear, however. No, there are not balls made especially for kickers. All NFL footballs are made to the same specifications. Some of the balls are stamped with a "K" for the kickers' use, however, so that they will not be mixed in with their "brothers and sisters" and used in other parts of the game. Thus, a kicker is always using a basically new ball. This change was instituted a few years back to combat the widespread practice of kickers working long hours to get the ball into exactly the shape and texture that they prefer.

Kickers weren't too happy about this.

2) What are the exact specifications for an NFL regulation football (size, shape, weight, color, odor, etc)?

Answer Man: Odor? They smell like footballs, Einstein. You want to know their zodiac signs, as well?

But yes, there are exact specifications. There are 18 rules in the NFL Rulebook, each with about 175,000 sections, articles, notes and random italicized notes. Rule 2 is dedicated solely to "The Ball." Here is the second sentence of Rule 2:

The ball shall be made up of an inflated (12½ to 13½ pounds) rubber bladder enclosed in a pebble grained, leather case (natural tan color) without corrugations of any kind. It shall have the form of a prolate spheroid and the size and weight shall be: long axis, 11 to 11¼ inches; long circumference, 28 to 28½ inches; short circumference, 21 to 21 ¼ inches; weight 14 to 15 ounces.

Got that. Even the Answer Man feels no need to embellish much on that, Super Verbosity Powers be damned. Well, that's not totally true. I do think a definition of prolate is in order: Elongated in the direction of a line joining the poles.

3) Are teams allowed to provide any brand of football for game play so long as it is in compliance with NFL regulation?

No. Going back to Rule 2, we learn that the ball must be a "Wilson," hand selected, bearing the signature of the Commissioner of the league, Paul Tagliabue.

4) Do stadiums have their own special locker rooms for referees like I imagine them to? Are any of them luxurious?

Answer Man: Why yes, they do. One of the first things a P.R. director does upon arriving at a visiting stadium on game day with his team is locate this dressing room, because he's going to have to visit it several times to exchange inactive information and, sometimes, a cast card. What's a cast card? Ask and I shall answer in a subsequent column. (Some readers have figured out that this teaser method is a sure way for me to keep the questions coming and thus keep this sweet gig on Bucs-dot-com.)

No, they are not luxurious. They are very Spartan and, uh, locker room-like. The most important feature of this locker room is actually on the outside of the door, where you will find a mandatory sign reading, "Positively No Visitors." (That doesn't apply to the P.R. directors, obviously, who are "invited guests," as it says in Rule 15.

5) What is the scenario for when a referee gets injured and cannot finish the game? Has this happened before?

Answer Man: This actually happened during the playoffs, but I can't fault Michael. His e-mail was sent in weeks ago, while the Answer Man was at the Senior Bowl. By now, he and many of the rest of you reading this may know that an extra official was on hand and the injured official was expediently replaced during the Jets-Steelers game in the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs. Head Linesman John McGrath was injured while Jets WR Santana Moss was returning a punt for a touchdown, and he was replaced by John Schleyer, an alternate who probably assumed he was going to have a much less eventful day.

However, that was the playoffs. There are not alternate officials at every game in the regular season, so a crew in this situation would have to rearrange itself a bit, the way a group of umpires does when one of them goes down at a baseball game.

In fact, here's what it says in the Rulebook, Rule 15, Section 1, Article 2:

*The game officials are: Referee, Umpire, Head Linesman, Line Judge, Field Judge, Side Judge, and Back Judge.

Note: In the absence of seven officials, the crew is to be rearranged, on the most feasible basis, according to the other members of the crew.*

6) What are this week's lotto numbers?

Answer Man: 7, 24, 33, 35, 40 and 43. Those were the numbers for the January 22 drawing (which I knew in advance, naturally), and they paid a total of $6 million to seven tickets. Michael's e-mail came on the 21st, so those would be "this week's" numbers. Man, it's a shame I didn't get to Mike's e-mail for a few weeks, huh?

**

  1. Thomas Graves of Williamsburg, (Virginia, I assume) asks:

Answer Man, this has been bugging me for quite some time now and I was hoping you could help. When Pittsburgh played the Patriots in the playoffs, [Ben] Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward with a pass near the end of the 3rd quarter. Ward ran out of bounds with 7 seconds left to go. However, the clock did not stop - cue commercial, start of the 4th. Now I know that the clock won't stop if forward progress is stopped before the player falls out of bounds, but Ward was clearly going forward as he went out (as I recall he was not even being hit). So, why did the last 7 seconds of the quarter run out? Please end my struggle, nobody around here seems to care as much as I. GO BUCS!!!

Answer Man: What a cold and unfeeling town you must live in, Thomas. No one cares about your gridiron-inspired angst? That's sad, because you raise a very important issue: Just what happened to those seven seconds? So very much can happen in seven seconds, so we ought to question it when they inexplicably disappear.

Fortunately, the answer here is simple, though I'd bet most football fans are unaware of the rule that applies.

Okay, we all know that that the clock stops when a player with the ball goes out of bounds, right? Who hasn't screamed, "Get out of bounds!" at his or her TV set when a receiver catches a short pass near the sideline during a critical two-minute drill?

Here's the thing: During most of the game, the clock starts again not when the ball is snapped for the next play but when the referee spots the ball and gives the ready signal.

See the critical difference? Player runs out of bounds; player comes back into play, hands the ball to an official and goes back to the huddle; official spots ball and signals that play can resume; clock starts, whether or not the offensive team has come to the line of scrimmage. Thus, in your example above the clock would have stopped when Ward ran out of bounds, but it started again when the ball was spotted and it ran out before another play was run. That scenario would give a team time to hustle back to the line and start another play if it wanted to, but the Steelers probably felt no great urgency to do so, as it was the end of the third quarter, not the fourth.

Of course, that rule changes in the final two minutes of either half, which is why it is still good strategy for the offensive player to get out of bounds and stop the clock. During those periods of the game, the clock will not start again until the ball is snapped for the next play.

**

  1. Michael Leach of Niceville, Florida asks:

Regarding your answer about a punt verses a field goal in measured yards, I believe the correct yardage is determined based on the last known placement of the ball prior to the kick. That is why the field goal kicker is credited, or not, from where the holder places the ball after the snap from the center. The punter receives the ball directly from the center, which was the ball's last placed position, so his yards come from that placed spot--the line of scrimmage. That is also why your quarterback's long pass from the one yard line scenario is accurate as a one yard pass.

Answer Man: That is an excellent point, Michael. In fact, I think it's probably a clearer answer than mine from last week. What I said then was that the statistical conventions of measuring a punt from the line of scrimmage but a field goal from the spot it is kicked related to the purpose of the play. A field goal needs to cover the amount of distance from the spot it is kicked to the crossbar; a punt needs to move the line of scrimmage as far as possible.

Mike points out that the ball is set down on the ground again for a field goal, which is quite true and is another good reason to measure it from that point. I don't think his answer contradicted mine, nor mine his, so let's put the two together and say that, collectively, we've really knocked that one out of the park.

Thanks, Michael.

**

  1. Joe of Tampa, Florida asks:

Hey. Just want to know what you thought about this... If a Top 4 seeded team's (division winner) record is worse than one of the Wild Card team's record, they should lose their seed to the wild card team and thus also home field. It could possibly make an already not-that-fair situation (let's say an 8-8 team playing at home versus a 10-6 team) a little more fair [playing at the 10-6 team's home town because of their better record]. It just seems more fair because the 8-8 team could have made the playoffs strictly by default of being division winner and not because they had one of the best records in the NFC/AFC. rewarding the lousier team with home field would be ..well... crap. Although, that is unless the 10-6 team isn't ALREADY rewarded home field for the better record. Would they be in today's rules? If not, the 8-8 team should lose either home field or the seed altogether. Thank You. Note: I'm not against a division winner with an average record making the playoffs...just the home field thing, just to be clear. Thanks for reading everything

Answer Man: I hear what you're saying, Joe. There does seem to be some inequity in the situation you describe. But I guess I would start by saying this: Show me the smoking gun.

It just hasn't been much of a problem to this point. When the league realigned to its current format of eight four-team divisions in 2002, they set it up so that the four division winners in each conference would get the top four seeds, followed by the two Wild Card teams. More divisions and few teams in each division made the above scenario more likely, but the league decided to see how it would play out. A spokesman for the Competition Committee said at the time that they would give the system a few years and see if it needed any corrections.

So has it? We can worry about the scenario you describe, Joe, but perhaps it doesn't happen enough to be considered a flaw in the system. Since 2002, there have been two instances of the team with the better record going on the road to start the playoffs.

In 2002, the 10-6 Indianapolis Colts had the first Wild Card seed and had to go on the road to face the 9-7 New York Jets, who won the AFC East in an incredibly wild, last-weekend finish. The Jets won that game, 41-0. In 2003, the 12-4 Tennessee Titans, Wild Card #1, went on the road to face the 10-6 Baltimore Ravens, winner of the AFC North. Tennessee won, 20-17.

That hardly seems like sufficient information to overturn the concept of a division winner always having a higher seed than a Wild Card team. I think you see that same principle in just about every sport, including the NBA and the NHL. Winning your division is considered something special, something due a certain reward. A Wild Card team didn't even win its own division.

Is that last sentence too harsh? Is it obvious that the 2003 Tennessee Titans, who just happened to be in the same division as the 12-4 Indianapolis Colts (and the expansion Houston Texans) were better than the 2003 Baltimore Ravens?

I wonder.

Let me describe to you another scenario, Joe. Team A plays in Division 1 with three other teams that have decent seasons. Team A splits with all of its division rivals and goes 6-4 in its 10 non-division games. That produces a 9-7 record overall, and it wins its division over two 8-8 teams and one 7-9 team.

Team B plays in Division 2 with one very good team and two teams that are struggling mightily. Team B wins all four of its games against those latter two teams and manages a big win at home over the team that ultimately wins Division 1. In its 10 non-division games, Team B goes 6-4, which produces an overall record of 11-5, and a Wild Card berth.

Was Team B, which finished 11-5, better than Team A, which finished 9-7? Or did Team B benefit from playing in a division with two very weak teams, thus getting four easy wins?

Who knows? And that's my point.

Were the 8-8 St. Louis Rams really the sixth best team in the NFC this year? Were they better than the 8-8 New Orleans Saints or the 7-9 Carolina Panthers, two teams that finished the season strongly? Maybe, maybe not, but they had the best record (plus tiebreakers) so they got in. Similarly, we don't know for sure if the Titans were better than the Ravens (though they were on that day when they played each other), but the Ravens won their division and that carries with it a higher seed.

I suspect that the tradition of winning a division meaning something will continue as long as the system seems to be working. If, however, we get a rash of the scenarios like the one you describe above, I suspect the NFL would at least consider changing the seeding system.

**

  1. Eric of Mars, Pennsylvania asks:

Answer Man - Why do refs wear numbers? With such a small officiating crew - and each having an assigned duty - why the numbers on their shirts?

Answer Man: Eric, the second part of your question indicates that you don't think the issue is identification. There's only a few of them on the field (seven, to be exact) and they hang out in predictable places and have their own set of responsibilities, so we shouldn't have any trouble telling them apart.

Well, actually, it is about identification.

Have you ever seen that classic NFL Films clip with Marty Schottenheimer on the sideline trying to get the referee's attention? He yells "Dave!" but gets no reaction, so he whips out his flip card, takes a quick look and yells "Bill!"

Before the game, Schottenheimer probably could have recited the referee's name, but it wasn't at the front of his brain in the heat of the moment. Numbers on the jerseys are simply the easiest way to quickly identify people on the field, which is why players wear them, obviously. Spotters in the press box can quickly pick out the number on a player or official's jersey, then translate that into the correct name. That is even more important for the refs, since they don't have names on their jerseys.

The numbers also make it easier for league representatives to review the officials' performance on videotape after each game. Each official is graded on each game, and that means a lot of videotape assessment. Sure, the referee usually starts out in a position behind the offensive backfield and a bit to the right of the quarterback (if he's right-handed), and the linesman is going to start each play on the sideline along the line of scrimmage, but officials move around just like players once the play has begun. It's important to be able to keep track of who is whom out there.

(By the way, before anyone asks, a "flip card" is a tool produced by the home team's P.R. department and used by coaches, broadcasters and other member of the media covering the game. It has a depth chart on one side, rosters on the other and a variety of other information, including the officials' names and numbers. It is so named because the back side is printed upside down in relation to the front side, so if you flip it over from the top you'll always get the information right side up.)

**

11a. Drew Pittman of Iowa City, Iowa says:

**Two parts: First, about the illegal forward pass in the Eagles game you talked about last week, the Refs ruled that since McNabb started off under center, that he was an ineligible receiver, thus making it an illegal forward pass. I guess it wasn't really a question.

Second, does the guy who lines up under center have to take the snap? Or, could the center hike the ball directly to the RB in an effort to confuse a D?

Thanks if you answer, you do good work.**

Hmmm. Good info there in Part the First, but on the other hand…

11b. Todd Oehlsen of Anna, Illinois says:

In regards to the question concerning the Eagles and a lateral then pass to the QB, the issue on the play was concerning the line position of the QB at the snap. McNabb was in the shotgun, and it was ruled he was not an eligible receiver. Had he been under center, he would have been eligible. I was unaware of this being illegal before I saw it happen.

Answer Man: Now, the Answer Man appreciates getting help and clarification on his previous columns, because it makes for a better understanding for everyone. Michael Leach's submission above is a good example.

Most of the time it's very helpful. What to make of this one, however? I think both Drew and Todd know their football (Todd, in fact, is a former contributor to this column, having sent in a question that was used in Volume 12), but their answers are the exact opposite.

On the other hand, they did help me pinpoint the issue, which is Donovan McNabb being ineligible to catch a pass on a play described by another reader last week. (Click here to read our initial discussion on this matter, which was somewhat open-ended.) That helped me find the appropriate ruling in the Rulebook and also – lo and behold – the actual play in question!

The play occurred in a Minnesota-Philadelphia game this past September 20. It was a Monday Night Football game, which may be why so many people remember it happening, but nobody among the five or six helpful e-mails I got on this subject mentioned when it happened. But I found it.

On the play, McNabb lined up under center and pitched the ball to Mitchell on an end-around. Mitchell then threw back to McNabb for what would have been a seven-yard gain if not for the fact that it was erased by penalty. As it says in the play-by-play on NFL.com: McNabb completed legal backward pass to #84 Mitchell. Penalty on McNabb as ineligible receiver as he was not in shotgun formation.

So there you have it. Drew and a few other respondents were correct. For all I know, Todd just typed too fast and probably meant the same thing. In any case, it appears like the Eagles were thwarted by a fairly obscure eligibility rule, that being that a quarterback who lines up under center and takes a hand-to-hand snap is not an eligible receiver.

That is made clear in the Rulebook in Rule 8, Section 1, Articles 2 and 4. Article 2 runs down who is eligible and includes a line that says, "Offensive players who are at least (legally) one yard behind the line at the snap are eligible, except T-formation quarterbacks."

Article 4 lists players who are not eligible and includes a line that says, "An ineligible player is one who is a T-formation quarterback who, takes his stance behind center, (1) receives a hand-to-hand pass or snap from him while moving backward; (2) does not receive a hand-to-hand pass or snap from him and is not legally one yard behind the line of scrimmage; or (3) ever receives a forward pass (handed or thrown) during a play from scrimmage."

Number 2 in that paragraph seems to be designed to combat a team getting around the rule by having the quarterback just a foot or so back of the center and taking an extremely short shotgun snap. The idea is for the quarterback to clearly be in a shotgun formation. Or, more specifically, as the following note in the Rulebook states:

Note: To become an eligible pass receiver, a T-formation quarterback must assume the position of a backfield player (as in a Shotgun, Single Wing, Double Wing, Box or Spread Formation) at least one yard behind his line at the snap. In case of doubt, the penalty for an ineligible player receiving a forward pass shall be enforced.

As for the second part of your e-mail, Drew, I covered the issue of the snap to the back way back in my very first column during training camp. Read it if you like; the short answer is no, the player under center doesn't have to take the snap. You could snap it right through his legs to a back in the backfield if you wanted to. But you wouldn't want to.

**

  1. Cory Draper of Jacksonville, Florida says:

Hey man...um...that...answers....I don't really have a question, just a sort of "reminder." You have mentioned the infamous "five down" blunder from that Colorado game in 1990. You also mention how Missouri Tiger fans are/were so upset about that game. However, you forgot to mention Georgia Tech fans. As you probably remember, had Colorado not won that game, they would not have shared the National Title with GA Tech and the Yellow Jackets would have been the sole possessors of the Championship. This has left Tech fans having to explain why they shared it when their rivals bring it up...I personally think it's much worse than the Tigers' problems...but hey, I'm a Tech fan.

Answer Man: I can't disagree with that, Cory. It's probably the same way Michigan fans feel about 1997, when they had to share the title with Nebraska. Though it was less controversial, many felt the Huskers were less deserving that year because they had barely won a mid-season game against an inferior opponent thanks to a bizarre play.

Trailing 38-31, Nebraska had time for one more play near the opponents' goal line. Scott Frost's pass to Shevin Wiggins bounced off Wiggins' foot. Incredibly, Matt Davison then made a diving catch of the deflection for the tying touchdown, though doubters swear the ball hit the ground first. Nebraska then won in overtime.

That opposing team: Missouri!

Nebraska stayed unbeaten and finished 13-0 while Michigan went 12-0. The AP selected the Wolverines but the coaches went for Nebraska, perhaps (some think) because it was Tom Osborne's final year.

So, yeah, I think that one probably smarts in Ann Arbor a little more than it does in Columbia, which has generally had better basketball to root for than football. As for the Georgia Tech fans, I think you've done a good job of representing them here. Or you've needlessly ripped the bandage off a still-healing wound. One of the two.

**

  1. CJ Wilson of Altoona, Pennsylvania (?) asks:

Do you think the Buccaneers will go to the playoffs next year?

Answer Man: Yes.

That was the easiest question of the year.

**

As usual, I only skimmed off the top of the possible topics in the Answer Man's mailbag and still rambled on for far too long. That means I'm going to have to back-burner, for a few more days, such mysteries as the infinite plane of the goal line (a topic we will be revisiting) and sleeve patches from the Buccaneers' past.

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